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News Releases

REF NO.: 130

SUBJECT: Public event examines citizens’ role in influencing public policy
DATE: Oct. 9, 2008

Global security, economic collapse, environmental degradation, climate change, and democratic reform: these complex issues are challenging governments around the world.
Have these issues become too complex for the average citizen? Can citizens be trusted to grasp complicated issues dealing with the environment, global finance, fishery management, equalization and a multitude of other issues? If so, how can citizens influence government decisions dealing with these issues? What should be governments’ role in soliciting input from citizens? And how can the debate about these issues take place in a respectful environment?
A public session bringing together public servants, academics and citizens will examine these and other questions on Thursday, Oct.16. The session is organized by Memorial University’s Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development and the Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter of the Institute for Public Administration of Canada (IPAC-NL).
“This session is meant to go to the heart of what kind of democracy we wish to have in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as in Canada,” said Mike Clair, associate director for public policy at the Harris Centre. “We’ll talk about the respective roles of governments, universities, civil society and individual citizens in addressing the major issues of our times.”
Mark Butler, president of IPAC-NL adds that, “a professional public service is an essential aspect of any working democracy. As such, it constantly interacts with citizens and non-governmental organizations. It is therefore important that we examine how this interaction is changing with the times, and how public servants should seek the input of non-governmental players.”
The session will feature four speakers who have communicated complex information to the public in ways which encouraged involvement in the decision-making process. Godfrey Baldacchino of the University of Prince Edward Island researches how academics can sometimes assume an aura of undeserved expertise and authority in some policy contexts. Ken Carty of the University of British Columbia helped 160 ordinary citizens of that province design a new electoral system. Wade Locke of Memorial University has spoken frequently to local audiences about Canada’s Equalization Program – one of the most complex government program in the country – and oil and gas economics. And Sharon Manson Singer of the Canadian Policy Research Networks frequently consults citizens on complex issues of national public policy.
Following short presentations, the public will have the opportunity for a discussion session and to provide their suggestions for improving public discourse.
The session takes place at The Studio (above Auntie Crae’s) at 272 Water Street on Thursday, Oct.16 from 7:30 until 9:30 p.m. Admission is free and disabled access is available from Duckworth Street. More information about the session can be obtained from the Harris Centre at (709) 737-3143. 
The session is being held in conjunction with the Knowledge in Motion 2008 Conference, which will bring together academic researchers, government officials, regional development practitioners and others from around the world to St. John's, to discuss how universities and colleges can help people contribute to public policy. More information about the conference can be found at www.knowledgeinmotion2008.ca.

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